Back at the World Cup for the first time since 2006, we take a look at the Saudi Arabian side on its way to Russia.
Saudi Arabia World Cup Fixtures, Squad, Group, Guide
Saudi Arabia vs Uruguay – (20th June) Match Report
Saudi Arabia Starting XI: 22 Mohammed Al-Owais, 3 Osama Hawsawi, 4 Ali Al Bulaihi, 6 Mohamed Al Brek, 7 Salman Al Faraj, 9 Hatan Bahebri (12 Mohamed Kanno 76), 13 Yasser Al Sharani, 14 Abdullah Otayf, 17 Taisir Al Jassim (17 Housein Al Hogahwi 44), 18 Salem Al Dawsari, 19 Fahad Al Muwallad (10 Mohhamad Al Sahlawi 78)
Uruguay Starting XI: 1 Fernando Muslera, 2 Jose Gimenez, 3 Diego Godin, 4 Guillermo Varela, 5 Carlos Sanchez (8 Nahitan Nandez 82), 6 Rodrigo Bentancur, 7 Cristian Rodriguez (17 Diego Laxalt 59), 9 Luis Suarez, 15 Matias Vecino (14 Lucas Torreira 59), 21 Edinson Cavani, 22 Martin Caceres
Uruguay 1 Saudi Arabia 0
Uruguay: Suarez 23
Saudi Arabia: none
Uruguay joined Russia in the knockout stages after grinding out a result against Saudi Arabia, who restored some pride after being hammered in their opening game. Luis Suarez took the one opportunity that came his way but it was not the rout that many had predicted.
Saudi Arabia were much improved from the team that had surrendered five goals to Russia five days earlier. But while they were tidy in possession, they rarely came close to threatening the Uruguayan goal.
Matter of fact
Luis Suarez won his 100th cap and became the first Uruguayan player to score at three World Cups (2010, 2014 & 2018)..
Saudi coach Juan Antonio Pizzi rang the changes after the opening-game hammering by Russia, making four changes to his starting line-up. Their general performance was much better but inexperienced keeper Mohammed Al-Owais, who came in for Abdullah Al-Mayouf, was at fault for Suarez’s goal.
Possession (%): 47/53
Goal attempts: 13/8
Attempts on target: 6/3
Pass accuracy (%): 85/84
Distance covered (km): 101/100
Saudi Arabia vs Russia – (14th June) Match Report
Starting XI: Russia – 1 Igor Akinfeev, 2 Mario Fernandes, 3 Ilya Kutepov, 4 Sergei Ignashevich, 8 Yuri Gazinsky, 9 Alan Dzagoev (7 Denis Cheryshev 25), 10 Fyodor Smolov (22 Artem Dzuba 60), 11 Roman Zobnin, 17 Aleksandr Golovin, 18 Yuri Zhirkov, 19 Aleksandr Samedov (7 Daler Kuzyaev 64)
Starting XI: Saudi Arabia – 1 Abdullah Al-Mayouf, 2 Osama Hawsawi, 5 Omar Hawsawi, 6 Mohamed Al-Burayk, 7 Salman Al-Faraj, 8 Yahia Al-Sheri (9 Hattan Bahebri 73), 10 Mohamed Al-Sahlawi (20 Muhannad Asiri 85), 13 Yasser Al-Shahrani, 14 Abdullah Otayf (19 Fahad Muwallad 64), 17 Taisir Al-Jassim, 18 Salem Al-Dawsari
RUSSIA 5 SAUDI ARABIA 0
Russia: Gazinzky 12, Cheryshev 43, 90+1, Dzuba 71, Golovin 90+4
Saudi Arabia: none
Hosts Russia recorded the biggest win in a World Cup opening match since Italy in 1934 (7-1), thrashing Saudi Arabia in front of watching state president Vladmir Putin and FIFA dignatories.
Russia had failed to win in their previous seven warm-up games but any fears that the hosts would be embarrassed in front of a global TV audience were dispelled by an early goal as the Russians went on to capitalise on some shocking Saudi defending.
The Saudis, back in the World Cup for the first time since 2006, gifted their opponents too much space and respect in midfield – and Russia took full advantage.
Man of the match
Aleksandr Golovin provided two assists and scored a wonderful free-kick.
Russia’s runaway victory was achieved despite losing their best player, Alan Dzagoev, to a hamstring injury midway through the first half. His replacement, Denis Cherysev, set up the hosts for their comprehensive victory with two well-taken goals.
Possession (%): 40/60
Goal attempts: 13/7
Attempts on target: 7/0
Pass accuracy (%): 78/86
Distance covered (km): 118/105
Saudi Arabia World Cup Guide
Saudi Arabia used to qualify for World Cups as a matter of course, but failure to make 2010 and 2014 had fans desperate to reach the 2018 World Cup. Led by Bert Van Marwijk, they did. Just. There was some luck along the way, but a last-day victory over an already qualified Japan did the trick and put the Green Falcons above Australia on goal difference. Yet qualification was followed by chaos, as Van Marwijk was replaced by Edgardo Bauza – who then left himself. Currently, former Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has taken up the head coaching role.
Key Moments in Qualifying
The opening game against Thailand in Riyadh was proving to be a frustrating experience until the softest of penalties six minutes from the end allowed Nawaf Al Abed to secure the points. Five days later, the midfielder scores twice more from the spot to give the Saudis a come-from behind win against Iraq.
With 11 minutes remaining, Van Marwijk’s men are trailing at home to Australia. Then Nasser Al Shamrani strikes to earn what will turn out to be a vital point won.
A 2-1 defeat in Japan prevents Saudi Arabia from breaking free at the top of the group.
Needing to beat Japan at home in the final game to qualify, winger Fahad Al Muwallad makes the second-half difference and the 1-0 victory is celebrated wildly. But days later Van Marwijk announces he is leaving, with Edgardo Bauza replacing him.
After just five games in charge, Argentinian Bauza was sacked as Saudi coach.
Saudi Arabia World Cup Group
Saudi Arabia World Cup Friendlies
Saudi Arabia recently played two friendlies as preparation for the World Cup, a 3-0 victory against Moldova, and then a 4-1 loss to Iraq at the end of February. They then drew against Ukraine, but got hammered by Belgium four days later. Two wins against Algeria and Greece followed, and then two losses to Italy and Peru nearly concluded their World Cup friendlies. Finally they lost to Mats Hummels and Germany on the 8th of June.
- 26th February – Moldova (won 3-0)
- 28th February – Iraq (lost 4-1)
- 23rd March – Ukraine (drew 1-1)
- 27th March – Belgium (lost 4-0)
- 9th May – Algeria (won 2-0)
- 15th May – Greece (won 2-0)
- 28th May – Italy (lost 2-1)
- 3rd June – Peru (lost 3-0)
- 8th June – Germany (lost 2-1)
Saudi Arabia World Cup Fixtures
Juan Antonio Pizzi, age 49 (07.06.1968)
Even by Saudi standards, the recent coaching merry-go-round was shocking. Van Marwijk, who had been in place for two years and was building a solid team, left just days after the Russian deal was sealed. In came Bauza, who had taken over the United Arab Emirates just weeks previously. A month later, the Argentinian had also said his goodbyes. Juan Antonio Pizzi, who lead Chile to the Copa America Centenario in 2016, has come in to fill the void.
Nawaf Al Abed was cool and composed throughout the final stage, and he scores as well as creates. When given the opportunity, Fahad Al Muwallad is exciting.
Osama Hawsawi has been in the centre of defence for a long time – although some feel for too long.
Nasser Al Shamrani was Asian Player of the Year in 2014 but he started just one game in qualifying.
Van Marwijk gave a first call-up to right-back Mohammed Al Burayk and the 25-year-old performed well under pressure.
Saudi Arabia World Cup Squad
Final 23-man squad –
GOALKEEPERS: Mohammed Al Owais (Al Ahli), Yasser Al Mosailem (Al Ahli), Abdullah Al Mayouf (Al Hilal).
DEFENDERS: Mansoor Al Harbi (Al Ahli), Yasser Al Shahrani (Al Hilal) Mohammed Al Breik (Al Hilal), Motaz Hawsawi (Al Ahli), Osama Hawsawi (Al Hilal), Omar Hawsawi (Al Nassr), Ali Al Bulaihi (Al Hilal).
MIDFIELDERS: Abdullah Al Khaibari (Al Shabab), Abdulmalek Al Khaibri (Al Hilal), Abdullah Otayf (Al Hilal), Taiseer Al Jassim (Al Ahli), Houssain Al Mogahwi (Al Ahli), Salman Al Faraj, Mohamed Kanno (both Al Hilal), Hattan Bahebri (Al Shabab), Salem Al Dawsari (Al Hilal), Yahya Al Shehri (Al Nassr), Fahad Al Muwallad (Al Ittihad).
FORWARDS: Mohammad Al Sahlawi (Al Nassr), Muhannad Assiri (Al Ahli).
Saudi Arabia World Cup Injuries
We will update you with any injuries to Saudi Arabian players regularly.
The Unanswered Questions
What effect will the change of coaches have?
Losing the experienced Bert Van Marwijk, who took his homeland to the 2010 Final, was huge. Not only did he know the players, they knew him and his system. Edgardo Bauza barely had time to get to know the squad, but friendly performances against Portugal and Bulgaria ended with much criticism and his departure proves that there are few seats as hot as that of Saudi Arabia’s coach. Time will tell if Pizzi can be as effective in this role as he had been with Chile.
Is Osama Hawsawi up to the job?
At 33, the centre-back and captain came into the team just after the 2006 World Cup but his ageing legs have been showing a little of late.
What about international exposure?
All the Saudis play at home and this is a problem. There is talk of some being loaned to European clubs, but that won’t be easy to arrange.
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